Editor’s note: The Lovefraud reader “Seekeroflight” sends us the following story related to her almost being dragged into a cult. In Lovefraud’s view, cult leaders are sociopaths on steroids, and engage in mind control over cult members.
There is a story from my past that I’ve wanted to share somewhere publicly, and I am thinking this might be a good place to do so. It doesn’t deal with a sociopath directly, but it is a type of situation that those of us vulnerable to sociopaths also may be vulnerable to. I certainly was. It also deals with a specific group which is incredibly dangerous, but of whom there is almost zero knowledge of within the United States even though they are practically at our doorstep.
I had a double major in undergrad, my second major being in Spanish. I had to do a study abroad and had an opportunity to spend a month in Mexico with one other classmate in a very tiny program. We shared the same host family and got pretty close to them, especially to our host mom. My classmate and I went back for a short visit over the winter when we were on a trip to another part of Mexico, and the following summer I decided to go back for two months this time to study further. By myself.
Of course, I went back to the same host family, who welcomed me in. I had kept in frequent contact with my host mom, and she had in many ways really become a mother figure to me. My relationship with my own mother was severely dysfunctional, and I was so thankful to have this mother figure in my life.
Being the only student this time gave me an opportunity to see the family a little more intimately, but also caused me to be more isolated. My host mom, let’s call her “Maria,” shared with me a good deal of private information about her past and her family. Her husband was an alcoholic, but in recovery. He attended Alcoholics Anonymous, and she attended Al-Alon because she is codependent. How great, I thought, that they had this support in their lives! She ranted and raved about how good these groups were, how they had changed their lives. But, she told me, they weren’t like normal 12-step groups. They were “grupos de cuarto y quinto paso,” or “groups of the fourth and fifth step.”
I had some limited knowledge of 12-step work, as I had attended an Overeaters Anonymous group a couple summers prior when I was in outpatient treatment for anorexia. It wasn’t a bad experience. My host mom knew of much of my history of depression and anxiety, and she started strongly encouraging me to go to Al-Anon with her. Of course I would go! I was so grateful to have this caring, concerned mother figure in my life. I would have done just about anything she suggested, to be honest. And I did, actually. She convinced me to go off my antidepressants during that time too. (You know, b/c she’s a doctor and all … what was I thinking!??)
I went to a couple meetings with her. They had a little bit different feel than the OA meetings I had gone to in the states, but I brushed it off. Chalked it up to the language barrier, being in my second language, and cultural differences. I went to a couple meetings with her and her husband, which were not strictly Al-Anon — they included those who attended AA, NA, SA, and other of the various “fourth and fifth step” groups. I thought it was a bit odd to have these bigger meetings all mixed together. Maybe a conflict of interest, putting addict and codependent in the same meetings?
I thought it also odd the somewhat religious overtones that these meetings took. My experience with OA was that a lot of people talked about God or a higher power, but there was always an effort to not make the meetings decidedly “Christian” in nature. It was the opposite with these meetings in Mexico — they were unapologetically Christian, with what felt like an understanding that anything outside of Christianity would be rejected or viewed as evil. This certainly rubbed me the wrong way, but I convinced myself to keep an open mind. Different culture, I told myself. Can’t expect them to automatically value religious diversity just because we do in the States, I told myself. And I certainly didn’t want to offend my dear host mom by voicing my discomfort with these “minor details.”
Another interesting aspect of these groups — they had these “retreats” once a month. My host parents would both go, as sponsors of people new to the group. New people had to pay to go — it wasn’t free. She said the retreats were secret. Those who went weren’t supposed to tell anyone else what happens there. But she divulged a few details anyway. She likened it to “camping,” saying that they were several hours away from the city at an old hacienda in the middle of nowhere. She said it was a very powerful spiritual retreat, where people would have visions of God and angels. People came back forever changed, healed of their mental and emotional afflictions. And she said something about this cathartic activity they did, hitting things with a plastic baseball bat.
Maria wanted me to have an opportunity to experience this, to maybe get some healing and resolution for some of my issues. I was pretty desperate for some help too … my battle with depression was long standing and severe. Going to an actual one of their retreats wasn’t an option due to the limited amount of time I was to remain in the country and because of my language barrier, but Maria decided to arrange with her sponsor kind of a modified retreat for me. I was nervous but kind of honored that she cared enough about me to try to do such a thing!
So Maria gave me the rundown on how this was going to work. What they usually do at the retreat was sit down and write out their fourth step, which is an inventory of their lives. She gave me a paper a week ahead of time to guide me in doing this, as it would take me extra time to write this out in my second language. The paper gave me specific questions to answer. Some talked about traumatic events in my childhood, abuse, etc, but most of the questions had a clear focus on anything sexual. They basically wanted a complete sexual inventory of my entire life. A DETAILED inventory.
Um … Really?
That didn’t exactly mesh with ANYTHING I had ever known about 12-step groups. But, I thought, it’s not like I had much to write. Yes, there was some abuse in my childhood. I could write about that. And maybe it would be healing to do so. But as far as anything sexual outside of that, I was about the most inexperienced person in the entire world. I had been kissed two times ever, by two boys, and held hands. Big friggen deal. (I was also very much in the closet, lol … that kinda helped things a little there! And Lord knows I wasn’t touching that subject with a ten-foot pole.)
I took my time, wrote a few pages, with as much detail as I could, which wasn’t much at all. I wrote some stuff that was highly personal and difficult, but, yeah, I was a virgin. My sexual history was pretty boring. And I waited for the day of my retreat. All I knew was that I would do a “fifth step” and read what I wrote to two sponsors (Maria and her sponsor, “Carlos” let’s call him), and then there would be some cathartic exercise or something, and Ta Da! I’d be healed. Was I nervous? Yes. Did I have any idea what I was walking into? Not at all.
Coffee and tea
Maria drove me around town, until I was good and disoriented. No idea where we were, I didn’t recognize anything and certainly wouldn’t have been able to trace my steps. We met Carlos at what seemed to be a vacant apartment. Inside there was a table and chairs, coffee pot and cups, and a bed in one room. That was pretty much it.
Not that there weren’t already like a million red flags in this story, but upon arriving I got my first HUGE SUPER RED FLAG. I have a neurological movement disorder. I shake, especially my hands. Sometimes it’s practically undetectable, othertimes it is significant and debilitating. At that time my symptoms were not well managed at all, and I rarely drank caffeine because it greatly exacerbated my symptoms. I was already nervous, which equaled more shaking, and I had brought a bottle of water with me. So when Maria offered me coffee, I politely declined.
Then Carlos offered me tea. Again, I declined. I thanked them but explained caffeine makes me shake worse, and showed them my bottle of water. I was fine. But they kept pushing the coffee and tea on me. Like, for a long time. I thought it was the strangest thing. I mean, who the heck cared that much if I had coffee or tea?!! It was really starting to piss me off! Finally when they realized I wasn’t going to change my mind, Maria gave Carlos this look of concern, which really concerned ME. It was like she was asking him, crap, now what are we going to do?
I should have just stopped it all there. I was so confused. It just didn’t make any sense to me why on earth that would even be an issue. But I didn’t know where I was within the city, I was in a foreign country, and I was pretty dependent on my host mom, both because of my status as a student there, and emotionally because I had grown quite close to her. I didn’t want to upset her, and I knew she had gone to some trouble to arrange this whole thing for me. I certainly didn’t want to embarrass her in front of Carlos. Nor did I want to embarrass myself. Carlos was highly respected in their group, kind of a leader. So despite being just stubborn enough to refuse their stupid beverages, I didn’t leave. I didn’t feel like I had a choice in that matter.
So we began. I read them what I wrote. It was not very long! Then … the interrogation begin. That, unfortunately, was much longer. And completely unexpected. What I wrote wasn’t good enough. They wanted to know more. They didn’t believe that what I wrote was EVERYTHING there was to write. So they just asked me what they wanted to know … much to my horror.
“Have you ever done this with a guy? With a girl?”
“Have you ever thought about it?”
“What kinds of things have you fantasized about doing?”
“Have you touched yourself here? Or there? Or like this? What about like that?”
Deer in the fricking headlights … I didn’t even know what to do. Why would this information even be relevant? It was degrading as hell and confusing. I answered as honestly as I could, because I didn’t see any other option. I was stuck there. Then the questions got worse …
“Have you ever molested anyone?”
“What thoughts do you have about other people?”
“Tell me about when your father slept with you.”
“Your dad raped you, didn’t he? Why won’t you tell us what happened?”
“So was it your grandfather? Who did this? Stop protecting him.”
Mind you, my father never raped me. Nor did my grandfather. But they wouldn’t take no for an answer. They kept arguing with me, trying to get me to admit to things happening that never, ever happened. Questioning me about just the most absurd scenarios, and then scolding me when I denied them. I was like, look, I have had enough bad stuff in my life. I am not going to make up more stuff that didn’t happen!!
I didn’t understand why this stuff was important. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t believe me. The only thing I DID understand right then was that whatever it was they were trying to do, I was failing. Miserably.
Into the bedroom
Next phase … into the bedroom we went. They wanted me to lie on this bed and kick and scream and beat up the mattress with a towel.
Let me explain something. I come from a very conservative ethnic and religious minority. My dad was raised in this group and left, so I’m second generation from it. Both sides of my family come down from this group. We are conditioned to be very non-emotive. And non-violent. Women in particular are not to show anger. There are few things more horrifiying and embarrassing to me than trying to do what they were asking me to do. I couldn’t do it. I just lay there and cried. I failed so miserably.
I was embarrassed
Things were never the same between my host mom and me after that day. I was so humiliated and ashamed that I couldn’t do what she wanted me to do, when she had arranged this whole thing specially for me. I wondered how messed up I must really be, that this group which supposedly cures people with horrible problems couldn’t do anything for mine. I was suicidal. I wanted desperately to call my dad and have him fly me back home two weeks early, but then I would have been even more of a failure, and how on earth would I explain to him what had just happened?! How did I even end up in that situation? What is wrong with me that I went all the way to Mexico to study and somehow ended up in some sort of crazy sex-obsessed cult?!
When I finally went back home, back to the states, I didn’t tell anyone for awhile what happened. Too embarrassed. I had to write a paper on my experience. I got an F. I was supposed to do a presentation. I couldn’t. Thankfully I had done these things the summer before, so I still had met the requirements for my second major. And I did well in the actual classes that I took while in Mexico. I briefly talked to my then therapist about it, but not in much detail. I was too embarrassed, and I wanted to protect my host mom too because I knew whatever the heck that whole thing was, it was messed up, but I didn’t feel like she had bad intentions in what happened. She is just all wrapped up in this very bizarre, very sick group.
Researching the group
A couple years later I had talked about my experience a little more to a few other very trusted people, including an older woman I consider to be like a mentor. One day she mentioned to me that she read an article about this AA group in the Washington, D.C. area that was a bit of an offshoot of traditional AA and was a little controversial. She wanted me to read it. The group had nothing to do with what I experienced in Mexico, but there were some similarities. It made me want to do some research on the groups from Mexico, wondering if perhaps there were articles written on them somewhere too and I could get some background information to make sense of my experience. After my initial attempts at research turned up nothing, I had the bright idea to search in SPANISH rather than English. Duh. Sure enough, I found a handful of news articles about them.
I was horrified by what I found.
It seems there are many of these groups in Mexico, especially around Mexico City, but they seem to not be in any other country. Some groups and their retreats are worse than others, but many people have been so traumatized by their time in these groups that they have attempted or committed suicide.
The retreats — people are bussed out to the middle of nowhere, having no idea what to expect. The conditions at the locations of the retreats are typically deplorable. No heat, little light, broken furniture. In the middle of the desert, so there is nowhere for them to run. They are trapped. They have to sit and write out their inventory and read it to their sponsors, like I did, and they are pressured to add things that never happened. Some of these things are horrible. People have come out of these groups convinced that they raped their own children, for example, when it never happened. They are abused verbally and even sometimes physically, deprived of food, sleep, water, and given a steady stream of coffee.
Something in the coffee
A psychiatrist who was interviewed for one of these articles, who has as clients many people who have come out of these groups, said that he believes they put something in the coffee.
???!!! Well…that explained that mystery. It also explained why people had these spiritual experiences of seeing God and angels. Hallucinations maybe? It also explained why I failed so dang miserably at the whole experience. Forget about “don’t drink the Kool Aid.” Don’t drink the damn coffee!! I feel like I dodged a huge bullet on that one.
It seems there is some financial gain to be had with these groups, especially with what they charge for these retreats. Also, can you imagine the control the group leaders would have over each person, after that person told them all their most horrible, shameful secrets?
One article talked about a mother whose teenage son killed himself after going to a retreat. He left her a letter explaining his experience. She received threats from the group to remain quiet about the situation.
Like dealing with a sociopath
I don’t feel like this experience was necessarily with a sociopath. I don’t think Maria is a sociopath. Carlos, I don’t know. I don’t know him well enough. Perhaps he is, or perhaps he is just wrapped up in a sick group like Maria. Regardless, this group is quite cult-like, which has similarities to dealing with a sociopath.
I know, after reading this website, that it is very common for people to have multiple experiences with sociopaths. Sometimes multiple horrible, bizarre, unbelievable experiences. But I still feel like a freak. I feel like my experiences are the most unbelievable of them all. And it’s not like these are my only bad experiences! The good thing is that I know so much more now, and I will never, ever let myself end up in such ridiculous situations again. I can thank my spath for that one
Below are links to some of the very few articles about this group, for anyone who can read in Spanish…